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Opinion: Phones down, eyes up to cultivate community

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In the airport, I notice that literally every person within sight is looking down at their phone. Some of them are walking, with their heads down, swerving at the last moment to avoid colliding with someone or something.

Not that long ago, my fellow travelers and I might engage in eye contact or casual conversation. That moment might turn into a laugh or a chance for a meaningful, thoughtful interaction.

Instead, we turn to our screens. And what we find there may not be very positive.

“Put that phone down!”
We’ve probably all said it at one time or another.

You might think, or say, “They should put that (obscenity) phone down because I’m their boss/dad/mom, and I say so.”

How is that approach working for you? If you tell a teenager or employee to, “Put that phone down,” you better have something worthwhile as an alternative.

In other words, if “Put that phone down,” is followed with an angry face-to-face interaction with you – well, I’ll stick with the phone, thank you, is the likely response, whether stated or not.

While phones and tablets can be problematic, do you really want to eliminate technology from your life?

Not me. I love working from wherever and finding information – yes, it takes some scrutiny – on just about everything. I love listening to motivating podcasts and enjoying comedy specials.

So, what are our options?

“Every human being has a longing for belonging.”
Howard Partridge said this. He is my friend, a wonderful mentor and a business owner. Concerned by what he perceives as increasing isolation and loneliness, he is devoted to expanding a sense of community across the planet.

The word community has many definitions, though the ones that apply here include shared spaces, language and experiences. Think connectedness and belonging.

Howard suggests that we can transform our homes and workspaces to places of real community. You know what it feels like, right, when you experience that? It happens at family reunions when a shared joke sparks laughter before the punchline or in a company when a team member gets a promotion and the whole crew genuinely celebrates. People look each other in the eye and smile.

In his new book, “The Power of Community,” Howard shares what he considers the three keys to unlocking community.

1. Support. The word means to hold up, bear the weight of, give assistance to. No one becomes successful all by themselves. Were you helped, somewhere along the road, by someone offering an opportunity or the right information? Of course. Support involves getting to know what the people in your life dream of and aspire to, and letting them know you will help them reach those goals.

2. Encouragement. It literally means to instill courage, to give hope. Our world is full of snarky comments. Online that can mean a nasty tweet. In person, it’s a negative jab or criticism. Encouragement involves recognizing wins and any progress in the right direction.

3. Accountability. Defined as an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions, a culture of accountability starts with the leader. Take responsibility for your actions. Then you can hold others accountable, too.

Combat the powerful influence of the digital world by making the present moment more compelling than the distorted reality we hold in our hands. You also have the right to set some boundaries.

• Make the table a phone-free zone.

• Texting and driving is just not OK; hands-free phone only.

• While working with tools, no phones. Safety first.

Then, is it OK to allow them to check their phones throughout the day, without your condemnation? Sure.

Ellen Rohr is an author and business consultant offering profit-building tips, trending business blogs and online workshops at Her books include “Where Did the Money Go?” and “The Bare Bones Weekend Biz Plan.” She can be reached at


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